Apple Music is turning its focus to Nashville, Variety reports, with an announcement that Jay Liepis is relocating to Music City to head up a new team that will be “dedicated to being more involved with artists, managers, songwriters and the label community at large.” The move represents a new push into country music — an area that many of Nashville’s labels have lamented as lagging behind when it comes to the major music streaming services. Randy Goodman, Sony Music Nashville’s chairman and CEO, expressed his delight in the move by exclaiming “Thanks be to God!” adding that Liepis’ move to town will be “game changing” for the country music industry.
Liepis is a 13-year Apple veteran who has served as head of U.S. and artist relations at iTunes, and according to Apple has played “an integral role in managing those relationships throughout the launch and growth of Apple Music.” Nashville label executives consider Liepis to be a welcome choice to head up Apple’s Nashville operations, which is expected to not only build closer relations with the country music industry but also mainstays like the Christian and Gospel and Americana communities as well as other genres that are growing in the area. Liepis has already been a driving force behind individual country campaigns by Apple, and already has a long-term relationship with Nashville, according to industry execs. While Spotify and Amazon Music already have a presence in Nashville, their efforts do not appear to have been pushing streaming of country music, with the genre still doing better in outright sales than streaming. Spotify’s U.S. top 50 basically include no country artists beyond collaborations, while iTunes sales charts have country artists claiming 13 of the top 50 spots. Despite this, country continues to be the top music radio format in the U.S., although historically country fans have also been more slow to adopt new media formats.